Pakistan government, Taliban talks get under way is Islamabad

Thursday 06 February 2014 17.29
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan committee member and senior religious party leader Maulana Sami-ul-Haq (R) and Special Assistant to Pakistan's prime minister Irfan Siddiqui smile prior to a joint press conference following their meeting at the Khyber Pakhtunkh
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan committee member and senior religious party leader Maulana Sami-ul-Haq (R) and Special Assistant to Pakistan's prime minister Irfan Siddiqui smile prior to a joint press conference following their meeting at the Khyber Pakhtunkh

A first round of peace talks between Pakistani Taliban insurgents and the government have taken place in Islamabad.

Cars carrying negotiators arrived at Pakhtun Khwa House, the venue of the talks, amid tight security.

As the news spread, media gathered outside the venue where the talks were being held, but were not allowed to film the arrivals.

State-run PTV aired images of the meeting, showing talks in progress between government and Taliban delegations.

Insurgents have been battling since 2007 to topple Pakistan's government and establish strict Islamic rule, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes both sides are now ready to find a negotiated settlement and stop fighting.

Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator picked by Sharif, said by text message from the meeting: “Talks on”.

He later described the atmosphere as “cordial and friendly”.

Several earlier efforts at striking peace deals with the militants failed to end the violence for long.

The meeting in Islamabad is a preliminary round where the two sides were expected to agree on a roadmap for future contacts and discuss conditions and demands.

The militants watched the progress of the talks from their mountainous hideouts on the Afghan border, with their interests represented by three Taliban-friendly public figures hand-picked by the insurgents.

“The progress of the talks will be submitted to the prime minister,” said a government official, who declined to be identified, as he is not authorised to comment on the talks.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban, are a deeply fragmented umbrella group consisting of dozens of entities, so striking a deal with one of them would not necessarily stop the violence.

On Tuesday, the first attempt at talking got off to a shambolic start after government negotiators failed to turn up at an agreed time, angering the insurgents' representatives.

Many in Pakistan doubt that talking to an insurgent group that stages almost daily attacks will succeed.

As the sides prepared for talks this week, a suicide bomber killed eight people near a Shia Muslim mosque in the city of Peshawar. 

Keywords: pakistan, taliban